Sunday, 19 February 2012

Look left …..and imagine


AFTER three or four visits, I think this is as good as it’s going to get of the remains of St Bartholomew’s Church in Heigham. I find this graveyard-turned-into-a-park a melancholy kinda place. But that’s never quite been converted into a half-decent photo until today. The secret – which in retrospect was obvious – is to frame the tower so that you can see the absence of the church. Even if that means you get a fairly average semi bang in the middle of the viewfinder. You’ve got to help the reader imagine what was to the left of the shot before 29th April 1942. Playing with the sun like that is, I guess, a bit of a cliche, but there’s little alternative when you’re filming early in the morning. Perhaps I’ll give it one more go on a summer’s evening before I finally call it a day.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The remains of St Bartholomew’s

sunny march 024

HERE’S the full text for St Bartholomew’s – the church in Heigham which was all-but flattened by the Baedeker bombings of April 1942. Whadya think? Too whimsical at the end perhaps? Let me know.

“At first sight it’s like dozens of other urban parks in Norwich. A busy through-street to the north, quiet cul-de-sacs to the south: swings for the children, paths for the dog-walkers. But in the middle there’s something much more incongruous: a 15th century church tower marooned without a church.

That’s because this park was once a graveyard. And the tower was once part of the medieval church of St Bartholomew. All that changed on April 29th 1942 – the night of the second of the Baedeker raids on Norwich. The church was blown to smithereens. The bells came crashing down, the font was split into pieces and just about all of the interior timberwork went up in smoke.

A rector, visiting on behalf of his bishop a week later, found parts of the church still smouldering. He reported how a safe containing the parish registers had survived the blast, only for some of the papers to instantly combust on exposure to the air. Photos taken at the time show that some walls did survive, but there never seems to have been any question of the church being rebuilt. Instead the parishioners moved to an old Methodist chapel nearby. Everything but the tower was deemed unsafe and eventually demolished in 1953.sunny march 029

St Bartholomew’s had been the parish church for Heigham for centuries. It was probably most famous as the church where the exiled bishop Joseph Hall had preached during the Civil War. Architecturally, those in the know admired its square tower – building square towers of flint apparently requires much more skill than the round towers we’re more used to in these parts.

The church had fallen on hard times during the Victorian era, but was restored and extended during the 1870s. Yet Heigham had always been a bit of a backwater. As late as the 19th century the area was marshy. Edward Delves, writing in 1879, called St Bartholomew’s “a mere village church at the extreme North West corner of the Parish. Roads impassable in wet weather”.

And today? Today I guess it’s a poignant reminder of the Baedeker bombings. Albeit a low-key, all-but-forgotten reminder in an often over-looked part of Norwich. Part of me wishes they’d left the rest of the remains in place as a more permanent, more graphic symbol of April 1942. Part of me wonders if it could be the site for a small museum dedicated to the widespread death and destruction the bombings caused. But that isn’t the Norfolk way. Tidy up, move on and don’t make a fuss. It’s probably for the best.”

* Some great “Ghost Blitz” photos of the church from Nick Stone here.

* Simon Knott’s take on the church here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Diving into the archives

Swan members at The Eagle
I LEARNT to swim in an indoor, heated leisure centre in the 1970s. Previous generations had it a bit more al fresco. This photo shows members of the Swan Swimming Club at the Eagle Baths in the Heigham area of Norwich in - we think - 1926. The diving board was on the Anderson’s Meadow side of the river – we’re looking upstream to the Mile Cross Road bridge. Gibraltar Gardens would be on the far bank behind the trees.
Amazingly enough there were three “swimming baths” on this stretch of river.  The Dolphin Baths belonged to the pub of the same name, near Dolphin Bridge. The Eagle Baths were, I think, named after one laundry half way up Heigham Street, while the Swan Swimming Club took its name from another laundry on the site of the modern Old Laundry Court. The Swan Laundry, to be fair, did build an indoor pool, heated with their own steam.
By our standards the outdoor pools appear to have been very rudimentary.Some were concrete tanks within the river, others had a tiny bit more privacy.This picture comes courtesy of Richard and Bridget Belson who have provided me with a huge amount of info on the first swimming clubs in Norwich. Bizarre as it may seem today, the Wensum at Heigham used to be full of swimmers.
* If this picture rings any bells, email me at

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Ferry ‘cross the Wensum

Dolphin Ferry
AND talking of The Dolphin Inn (see previous post) isn’t it strange to think of a ferry boat plying its trade on this stretch of river? The bridge we can see carried the Midland and Great Northern railway line down to its terminus at City Station. But the road bridges we take for granted today (Mile Cross and Sweetbriar) didn’t arrive until well into the 20th century. So there was no other way of crossing the Wensum between St Crispin’s Road (the existing bridge close to Halford’s) and Hellesdon – a good mile and a half upriver. The landlord of the Dolphin Inn on Heigham Street filled the gap, running a pub, some outdoor swimming baths and this ferry. Look closely and you’ll see the ferryman is standing up – much as they did at Pull’s Ferry and at Coldham Hall at Surlingham. Look even closer and it appears he’s got a fair few passengers waiting to make the return journey. If anyone’s got any more info please get in touch at
*Thanks to Richard and Bridget Belson for the photo..

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Boating on the Wensum

Carey 46 (2)
A GREAT picture of gentler times on the River Wensum, perhaps a century ago. James Carey had previously run the Dolphin Inn on Heigham Street, but gave it up in about 1909. The rent had been put up once Dolphin Bridge had been built, so Carey moved to the north bank and turned his hand to “boat-letting” instead. I doubt this photo was taken too far upriver from Oak Street, despite the rural views. It’s a guess, but we might well be looking north at what would become the Mile Cross estate after the Second World War. If you know different, do get in touch at
* A huge thank you to Richard and Bridget Belson for providing me with this photo and many more on the history of the Heigham area and in particular its “river baths”. More on all that soon.